US seeks ‘broadest possible’ Red Sea maritime alliance against Houthi attacks

  • DOHA: The United States wants to form the “broadest possible” maritime coalition to protect ships in the Red Sea and send a “important signal” to Yemen’s Houthis that further attacks will not be tolerated, the US envoy for Yemen told Reuters.
  • The Iran-aligned Houthis have attacked vessels in Red Sea shipping lanes and fired drones and missiles at Israel since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza over two months ago, heightening fears of a bigger conflict in the Middle East.
  • US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters last week that Washington was in talks with other countries over a maritime task force that would “ensure safe passage of ships in the Red Sea,” but gave no further information.
  • Iran warned on Thursday (Dec 14) that such a force would face “extraordinary problems”.
  • US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking said the US wanted the multi-national alliance to send “an important signal by the international community that Houthi threats to international shipping won’t be tolerated.”
  • The US aims to expand a current international naval task force into “an international coalition that is putting some resources into protecting freedom of navigation,” Lenderking said in an interview this week during a conference in Doha.
  • The current task force in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, known as Combined Task Force 153, is a 39-country coalition led by the vice-admiral of the US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain.
  • “There’s a very, very active assessment going on in Washington about what are the steps necessary to get the Houthis to de-escalate,” Lenderking said, calling on the group to free the crew of a ship seized on Nov 19, the Galaxy Leader.
  • Lenderking refused to say which countries or how many more Washington had approached to join the expanded coalition, but said it should be the “broadest possible” coalition.
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi last week addressed the threat that Houthi attacks post to maritime security, according to a State Department readout of the phone call.
  • China, which is not part of the current task force, is a heavy user of the Red Sea route and holds sway with Iran, the Houthis’ major sponsor.
  • The Houthis and several other Iran-linked groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and several militias in Iraq, have been attacking Israeli and US targets since the Israel-Hamas war began over two months ago.
  • The Houthi attacks launched from Yemen target the flow of supplies between Asia and the West, and pose a major threat to the global economy.
  • The attacks have driven up the cost of shipping goods through the Red Sea, which the London insurance market now lists among its high-risk areas.
  • About 23,000 ships each year pass through the narrow Bab al-Mandab Strait connecting the Gulf of Aden with Red Sea and beyond to the Suez Canal.
  • Senior sources in the Iran-aligned groups said last week the Houthi attacks were part of an effort to put pressure on Washington to get Israel to halt the Gaza offensive, a goal that Iran shares with Saudi Arabia and other countries in the area.

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